Art-house filmmaker leads Cambodian movie renaissance

Success of 'White Building' highlights new generation of cinephiles.

Growing up as a Parisian, Davy Chou fell in love with cinema unaware that his maternal grandfather had been a leading producer in the Cambodian film industry that was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Now Chou has become the godfather of a new generation of Cambodian filmmakers.

While Chou never attended film school, he took a video camera with him in a quest to reconnect with the land of his ancestors when he visited Cambodia for the first time in 2009. Offering largely theoretical classes for a nongovernmental organization and a journalism school, he found so much pent-up demand for film knowledge that he soon had nearly 60 students in his Phnom Penh apartment doing screenwriting exercises and watching classic movies on his laptop.

At that time, the country had only one internationally recognized director, Rithy Panh (whose Bophana Center in Phnom Penh is an archive where rare videotapes of old movies can be viewed). There was little cinematic activity because of what Chou terms “the poor state of the economy,” but among his attendees was Kavich Neang — who would become the most prolific of young directors and co-founder with Chou of a daring art-house production company they named “Anti-Archive.”

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